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Tell us how did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career?

Shyama Pandya was fond of chemistry after first taking it in high school in her native India.

“My teacher introduced it as a ‘study of everything around us,’” she said. “There is no physical entity that cannot be explained with chemistry. As young as I was then, I felt like I had the answer to all of life’s questions.”

When she had the opportunity to move to the U.S., Pandya made the decision to do so quickly. However, she didn’t have enough time to apply to colleges or prepare to take the ACT or SAT, so coming to College of DuPage was a default selection rather than a choice.

Now she sees it as a smart decision.

How was your experience at DuPage?

“My time at College of DuPage has given me a solid educational foundation and only strengthened my desire to become an engineer,” she said. “I learn best in a competitive environment. Professors David Smith and Scott Banjavcic have been excellent advisors as they keep pushing us to outperform ourselves. My friends and I kept challenging each other and brought out the best in ourselves.

“There is no dearth of opportunities at COD, and I did my best to take advantage of as many as possible.”

One of those opportunities is a summer internship in 2015 at Northwestern University, where she investigated the economic and environmental impacts of the biofuel industry.

What was your career path?

Pandya transferred to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she is studying civil and environmental engineering. She spent one semester at John Deere as an undergraduate researcher in its Technical Innovation Center at UIUC, working on life cycle assessment of their machines. In 2016, she was with the U.S. Geological Survey at the Illinois Water Science Center in Champaign, working with hydrologists on the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

“As a child, I was very conscious about how many times I flushed the toilet. For every 0.1 gallon of waste, I flushed six gallons of clean, usable water down the drain,” she said. “It is no secret that fresh water is a scarce resource. Growing up in a developing country made me very aware of the struggle for fundamental necessities, such as potable water and sterile sanitary facilities. It made me appreciate the power of infrastructure and real estate, and rapid development of both of these can affect a community significantly.

What are your future goals?

“However, monetary challenges hold such development back and lead to hardships. My goal, as an aspiring environmental engineer, is to come up with cost-efficient and energy-saving models that can crush these monetary challenges.”

Pandya is grateful to the many opportunities available at College of DuPage, where she was a member of Phi Theta Kappa and the Society of Women Engineers.

“It was very helpful that my teachers are always available to answer all my questions about the course materials, internship opportunities and what classes to take,” she said. “This is something I’ll miss when I transfer.”